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Comparing the Light and Electron Microscope

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Michael Haines        Biology        Mr. Brook

Comparing the Light and Electron


In this essay I am going to be comparing the light and electron microscope, I will look at the advantages and disadvantages of each microscope and then analyse my findings to see if one is better than the other.

 The light, or optical microscope as it is also known was invented in the 17th century, it has been refined in many ways over the years but it is essentially still the same. The light microscope works by; light rays from a light source beneath the stage are through to glass lenses in series. The two lenses are called the objective lens and the ocular (eyepiece) lens. Depending on their strength these two lenses on their own routinely provide magnifications of up to 400 times. There is a limit to the amount of detail the light microscope can show, this limit is set by the resolving power.

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Below is a table of comparison, of the advantages and disadvantages of the light and electron microscope.

However there are problems with both these forms of electron microscope, it is that it requires complex preparation techniques coupled with the need for a high vacuum means that not only must the material being observed be dehydrated and therefore dead, it is frequently considerably distorted; what you see may be very different from the original material. In response to this a new generation of electron microscopes has been developed-the Environment scanning electron microscope (ESEM). These microscopes allow the material on view to be kept at a low vacuum while the region around the electron gun is at a high vacuum. This is achieved by separating the microscope column into a series of chambers. Each of these chambers has its own pressure.

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Cheap to purchase and operate

Expensive to purchase and operate

Small and portable- can be used almost anywhere

Very large and must be operated in special rooms

Unaffected by magnetic fields

Affected by magnetic fields

Preparation of material is relatively quick and simple, requiring only a little expertise

Preparation of material is lengthy and requires considerable expertise and sometimes complex equipment

Material rarely distorted by preparation

Preparation of material may distort it

Natural colour of the material can be observed

All images are black and white



Magnifies objects up to 2000x

Magnifies objects over 500,000x

The depth of the field is restricted

It is possible to investigate a greater depth of field

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This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Microscopes & Lenses section.

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Here's what a star student thought of this essay

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Response to the question

The candidate gives a brief introduction, though it is clear what they plan to discuss which is good, they have not taken the time to introduce the topic, for example, What is a microscope? What is it used for? Your ...

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Response to the question

The candidate gives a brief introduction, though it is clear what they plan to discuss which is good, they have not taken the time to introduce the topic, for example, What is a microscope? What is it used for? Your introduction is also a good opportunity to grab the readers attention and make them interested in what you have to say, there are several ways to do this, including stating an interesting fact or quote that is relevant to your topic. Overall the candidates response is thorough and they provide a good level of detail about both types of microscopes.

Level of analysis

The candidate has provided a great deal of detail for both the optical and electron microscope and it is clear from their discussion that they understand the principles involved. That said, they could have made this essay more interesting had they taken the time to do some research, they could have included information on how the microscope was developed or ways in which microscopes have aided scientific discoveries or research. This additional information shows an interest in your subject and that you have the ability to work independently. Furthermore, the candidate ends this essay with a table that differentiates between the advantages and disadvantages for both the optical and electron microscope, though the information in this table is accurate, it is not a suitable way to display information for this type of essay, it is far more appropriate to write in continuous prose, which you should be capable of at this level of qualification. In addition to this an essay should end with a conclusion, as this allows you to draw your essay to a close and gives you the chance the leave the reader with a good impression. A good conclusion should summarise key points from within your essay and state why these are important and you should include a personal response to your topic as your teacher/examiner is interested in what you have to say and what you have learnt.

Quality of writing

This piece for work is generally well written, the information is coherent and the essay is easy to follow as the candidate first discusses optical microscopes and then goes on to discuss electron microscopes rather than going back and forth between the two. However they could have improved their work by writing a paragraph to compare the two microscopes rather than using a table. That said there are no errors with spelling or grammar and the candidate has used appropriate scientific terms throughout.

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Reviewed by pictureperfect 26/07/2012

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